Leslie Ungerleider, Ph.D.

NIH Distinguished Investigator

Section on Neurocircuitry, Laboratory of Brain and Cognition (LBC)


Magnuson Clinical Center (Building 10), Room 4C104
10 Center Drive
Bethesda, MD 20814



Research Topics

The goal of the Section on Neurocircuitry has long been devoted to establishing the links between neural structure and cognitive function, especially in the visual modality. Most of Dr. Ungerleider’s early work was devoted to anatomical tracing techniques in macaque monkeys in order to delineate the areas that comprise visual association cortex and their interconnections. The mappings of the monkey extrastriate visual cortex in the mid- 1990’s outlined some of the major functional systems. With the advent of functional brain imaging in humans Dr. Ungerleider re-channeled her resources towards studies of human cortex, first using PET and then fMRI. Her monkey work has guided many of her hypotheses in human imaging studies.
Dr. Ungerleider’s work on visual attention and perception has shown that in a typical scene many different objects compete for neural representation due to the limited processing capacity of the visual system. The competition among multiple objects can be biased by both bottom-up sensory-driven mechanisms and top-down influences, such as selective attention. Although the competition among stimuli for representation is ultimately resolved within visual cortex, the source of top-down biasing signals likely derives from a distributed network of areas in frontal and parietal cortex. This biased competition model of attention suggests that once attentional resources are depleted, no further processing is possible. Dr. Ungerleider’s recent work has shown that, similar to the processing of other stimulus categories, the processing of stimuli with emotional valence is under top-down control, requiring attentional resources.


Dr. Ungerleider received her B.A. degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton and her Ph.D. degree, with a major in Experimental Psychology, from New York University. During her postdoctoral training with Karl Pribram at Stanford University, she began her work on higher-order perceptual mechanisms in the cortex of primates. She moved to the NIMH in 1975, joining Mortimer Mishkin in the Laboratory of Neuropsychology. Their neurobehavioral work inspired their theory of ’two cortical visual systems’, one specialized for object recognition and another for visuospatial perception.
In 1995, Dr. Ungerleider became Chief of the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition at NIMH. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2001, she was the recipient of the Women in Neuroscience Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2008 she became an NIH Distinguished Investigator

Selected Publications

  1. Zhang X, Japee S, Safiullah Z, Mlynaryk N, Ungerleider LG. A Normalization Framework for Emotional Attention. PLoS Biol. 2016;14(11):e1002578.

  2. Zachariou V, Nikas CV, Safiullah ZN, Gotts SJ, Ungerleider LG. Spatial Mechanisms within the Dorsal Visual Pathway Contribute to the Configural Processing of Faces. Cereb Cortex. 2016.

  3. Liu N, Hadj-Bouziane F, Jones KB, Turchi JN, Averbeck BB, Ungerleider LG. Oxytocin modulates fMRI responses to facial expression in macaques. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015;112(24):E3123-30.

  4. Zhang H, Japee S, Nolan R, Chu C, Liu N, Ungerleider LG. Face-selective regions differ in their ability to classify facial expressions. Neuroimage. 2016;130:77-90.

  5. Pitcher D, Japee S, Rauth L, Ungerleider LG. The Superior Temporal Sulcus Is Causally Connected to the Amygdala: A Combined TBS-fMRI Study. J Neurosci. 2017;37(5):1156-1161.

This page was last updated on October 30th, 2017